The Surly Midnight Special is Truly a Fat Tire Road Bike – Morgan Taylor

Surly’s Midnight Special is Truly a Fat Tire Road Bike
Photos and words by Morgan Taylor

The Surly Midnight Special is a drop bar bike that fits big tires – real big tires. Beyond fitting huge tires, what makes it unique among the expanding options in this category is that its geometry is derived from a road bike rather than the ‘cross bikes that most “Road Plus” bikes have descended from. Chainstays are short and head tube angles are relatively steep across the board, making for a quick-handling bike that loves to carve corners at any speed – but especially when you’re going fast.

Don’t let the massive tire clearance fool you; despite the wide 650B tires, it handles on the road more like bikes you’d expect to see narrower tires on. Because of this, the Midnight Special is difficult to classify. It fits big tires and it’s got disc brakes and drop bars, but it’s not a ‘cross bike and it’s unlike any bike being marketed as gravel. It fits more tire than a Straggler but its geometry is more like that of the Pacer. So let’s get into that.

New Frame Details

The Midnight Special has some characteristics not seen on Surly’s drop bar bikes in the past. First up, the 44mm head tube with external lower cup means you could choose to run a tapered fork – i.e. a carbon fork – if that’s the kind of thing you’re into. Carbon forks can save a lot of weight over steel forks. If you’re into it, go for it. If you’re not, the stock fork is great.

Next, flat mount disc brakes. Now, I’ve got no problems with post mount brakes, but I can see why the road disc world moved to this standard. After riding a few bikes with flat mount, it’s not without its quirks in setup, particularly at the rear caliper. However, from an aesthetic standpoint, flat mount brakes integrate cleanly, and I’ve come to like that aspect.

Over the past couple years, I’ve been paying close attention to how different designers implement the flat mount standard. In most cases we see a forged left side dropout with both the axle and brake mount integrated. Surly’s solution here is one of the more elegant I’ve seen, and I really like it. The chainstay is brazed into the dropout, while the seat stay is welded to the top, with a bend to allow lots of room for brake options – including post mount, if you prefer.

From a compatibility standpoint, a flat mount bike can be adapted to post mount calipers (provided the seat stays have enough room), but you can’t go the other way around. So in this sense flat mount is arguably more useful in the long run.

Along with flat mount, 12mm through axles have become the standard for disc road bikes. At the rear end it’s the same 12×142 standard as mountain bikes used a few years back, and a simple end cap swap on most 10×135 QR wheels. Yet I’ve got front wheels, for which I have both 9×100 QR and 15×100, that no 12×100 end cap is available for. The silver lining here is Surly’s propensity toward backward compatibility means both frame and fork can be used with through axle or QR wheels.

The fork dropouts echo the lugged form of the chainstay joint, though some may be disappointed to see Surly has gone to a unicrown fork rather than the lugged crown on their other drop bar bikes. I always liked the look of Surly’s lugged crowns, but I wouldn’t consider this a deal breaker. It’s still got a good amount of rack and fender mounts which matters more than what kind of crown it’s got.

What you’ll notice about all of these new frame details is that the Midnight Special gets the newest standards in road disc, while retaining compatibility with legacy standards. Run whatever fork, wheels, and brakes you want.

But What About the Dropouts?

Surly has a history of making complex dropouts that accommodate running geared or single speed, are compatible with a variety of axle standards, and have lots of holes to bolt things to. The Surly approach caters to those who want nothing less than to build their bike from a parts bin and who revel in the idea that their dropouts are ready for the apocalypse.

To accomplish backward compatibility with QR wheels, the dropouts are effectively QR dropouts with a larger opening to accommodate the 12mm through axle, and an adapter for QR wheels. Usually, through axles all but eliminate wheel misalignment – but despite being compatible with through axle wheels, these are not through axle dropouts. Like a QR bike, you need to double check that your wheel is properly seated in the dropout.

I’m not sold on the convertibility of the dropouts but it’s a very Surly thing to do. Some people will be very happy that their existing disc wheels will fit in the Midnight Special – and in practice the open design worked just fine for me – but I’d rather have the benefits of a closed through axle dropout.

So How Does It Ride?

I jumped on the Midnight Special immediately after my time with the 333fab Air Land Sea. The Air Land Sea has traditional rando geometry – a steep head angle paired with a high offset, low trail fork – and the same WTB 47mm tires, so I was curious how the Midnight Special with a 25mm difference in fork offset would handle out on the road.

Fit-wise I chose Surly’s 58 which measures 61cm center-to-top and has a 58.5cm top tube. The Midnight Special retains the classic Surly silhouette with a level top tube, which also means you might be running more spacers if you choose your “normal” size. I upsized to get a longer head tube, and I ended up on a 100mm stem.

The first thing I noticed was that the Midnight Special felt more like a normal road bike than any bike I’ve ridden with WTB’s Road Plus tires. It was an interesting feeling: I’ve ridden a lot of bikes with Horizons and Byways, and they’ve always felt a bit slower to turn, a bit less fun to carve corners with.

Not so with the Midnight Special. Even at my preferred pressures around 35-36 psi, it felt so good at high speed. Carving corners was super fun, the lower fork offset allowing me to really lean in without the bike changing its line. The Midnight Special, with its steep head angle and low offset fork, is the best bike I’ve ever ridden WTB’s Road Plus tires on.

Fatties Fit Fine

They really do. I was seriously surprised by the amount of clearance on either side of the 650×47 WTB Horizons that came with the bike. For a production frame with a road crank and no yoke, the Midnight Special has the most clearance I’ve seen. Surly claims it’ll fit a 27.5×2.35” and I don’t doubt that.

How’d they do it? Well, the drive side chainstay has been squished almost completely flat where it passes between the chainrings and tire. Huge amounts of room for whatever tires you can imagine, or for big road tires and full fenders without any funny business. Seeing this much clearance on a bike with a 68mm bottom bracket shell makes me happy!

Because they’ll fit, people will be tempted to put mountain bike tires on this bike, but I’m going to say I don’t think it’ll be nearly as fun as with faster road slicks. The fact that you can do it makes the bike all that much more versatile, but it’s so good as a road bike that I feel like you’d be missing out. Unless your rides are completely on dirt, a tire like the WTB Byway is really well suited to the Midnight Special.

Bottom Bracket Drop and Tire Size

On most production bikes with 650B tires you’re going to see bottom bracket drop in the range of 65-70mm, with small variations outside that. I’ve noticed a lot of people find the combination of 70mm drop and 47mm tires to be as low as they’d like to go. They’ve tried 42s with tires like Cazaderos and find pedal strike. Personally, I am happy on a 70 drop with 42s, but I understand why others like more clearance, even if it is only 5mm.

With this in mind, the Midnight Special’s 65mm drop means those who like more clearance for pedal strikes in off-piste situations would be as happy on 42s as they would on a 70mm bike with 47s. I mention this because there are a bunch of good 42mm tire options out there, and the Midnight Special is suitable for all of them.

Component Choices

In the past year I’d ridden no fewer than five bikes with SRAM Rival and Force drivetrains, but this was the first with a double front – and I really enjoyed it. I appreciated the the wider gear range of the 11-32 without the big jumps of a mountain cassette, and I didn’t even know it was a Sunrace cassette until I looked closely. For my own needs I’d prefer a crank with smaller chainrings, but the 50/34 worked just fine.

As I mentioned above, I really liked the WTB Horizons on this bike. They set up tubeless easily, have lots of tread, and have robust, durable sidewalls well-suited for everyday riding. There are plenty of options out there for faster 650B tires, and lots of 27.5 mountain bike tires that’ll work as well.

When I opened up the stock Alex rims to set them up tubeless, I found that the bead seats were not tubeless-ready, so I took the opportunity to try out my new Easton EA70 AX wheels. It would be nice to see the bike spec’d with tubeless rims out of the box, and Surly tells me that will be the case in the future.

I’ve been doing a lot of distance riding lately, and have come to enjoy running Compass tires tubeless for the purpose. The 650×48 Switchback Hill TC measured up at nearly 51mm on the 24mm EA70 AX rims, and there was still lots of clearance in the frame. The lighter wheels and tires really quickened the bike’s handling, for better or for worse. To be honest, the Horizons are perfect, as long as you aren’t doing brevets or riding with a fast road group. For those times, I prefer faster tires like Compass.

As you’ll see in the photos, I changed the seat post and saddle as well as the stem. I usually end up changing bars as well, but the 44cm Cowbell worked for me. If I were to ride the Midnight Special for a longer term, I’d likely change the brake cable housing for compressionless and swap the bars out, swap for a crank with smaller chainrings, as well as use a lighter set of fenders.

So What Makes It Different Than the Straggler?

On the surface, the Midnight Special looks a lot like a Straggler. What makes these bikes different enough for Surly to justify going to production on the Midnight Special? Well, small differences in a bunch of places add up to a different ride feel, and that’s what really sets the Midnight Special apart.

On the geometry side, there are differences in head tube angle, fork offset, and bottom bracket drop. On the size 58 I was riding, the head tube angle was 73º (as was the seat angle) and the fork offset was 40mm. In contrast, the Straggler (in both 700c and 650b) would have a 72º head angle and a 44mm offset. Trail is slightly lower on the Midnight Special. The 700c Straggler has a 72mm bottom bracket drop, the 650b 54mm, and the Midnight Special 65mm. With the stock wheel and tire spec, the Midnight Special sits lowest of the three.

In terms of features, the Straggler fits QR wheels only, post mount brakes, and a 1-1/8” fork. The Midnight Special gets all the future-proof updates noted above. Both the 700c and 650b Straggler are happiest on 42mm tires, though the 650b bike can squeeze the WTB 47s. You can be assured that if Surly were to replace the Straggler, they’d do everything they could to make it fit 47s and more.

There will be some initial confusion about what differentiates these bikes, but anyone who rides both will notice quickly. I think the majority of the confusion lies in the fact that the Midnight Special fits bigger tires than either Straggler. To me, and to many readers of this site, big tires just make sense. Pairing them with road geometry is new, and it’s good.

Unmistakably Surly

The Midnight Special is unmistakably Surly. It’s a bit of a middle finger to traditional road bikes, yet it’s certainly capable of keeping up with them on the right tires. Surly has used high volume tires in a way that’s actually different than what’s currently out there, and I like it. The Midnight Special isn’t going to be the lightest bike out there, but that’s not what attracts people to the Surly brand. It’s gonna last, it’s more future-proof than retro-grouch, and you can sure bet you’ll have fun with it.


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  • Kurt Schneider

    Best news I’ve had since the frame arrived on Tuesday: The new 700c tubeless wheels that I just finished for the Vaya, will work just fine on the Midnight Special. (If only the same were true of the 105 triple crank.) Now…if we hadn’t gotten four inches of snow overnight.

  • Owen P

    Well, it would be the first Surly I would maybe consider riding, but it’s a Surly, so it’s way too long for me. It’s a cool bike though…not sure on the unicrown, aesthetically, but overall looks nice.

    • Rider_X

      Surly geo is really well suited to people with long torsos and shorter inseams. If you are the opposite, long inseam and shorter torso, the surly fit is never very good. You options are a “size appropriate” frame with a ton of spacers (blah!) or sizing up with a short stem and sub-optimal handling. I don’t know how many long inseam/short torso people there are out there compared to long torso/short inseam, but it would be great if surly provided a “taller stack/ shorter reach” version of popular frame. I guess I can’t complain too much as there are always sister brands like Salsa that fill this gap. I can only browse Surly and sigh, “not for me.”

      • xeren

        don’t short inseams typically mean short arms as well? as a long torso/short inseam (and arms) person, i find i like long reach bikes with tall stacks, at least on mountain bikes where I prioritize out of saddle fit over seated fit. in the attack position, my longer torso puts me further forward on the bike, but i still need that tall stack because of my dumb short arms.

        but it seems like you’re saying most long torso/short inseam people like long reach and short stacks. am I the weird one here?

        • Rider_X

          Not sure if everyone with shorter inseams also have shorter arms. I do know, however if you have a relatively shorter femur (upper leg) you also have a relatively shorter upper arm. Shorter upper arms typically need a taller stack and longer reach. Imagine bending you arms at 90 degree (yes no one rides with 90 degree bend but work with me here) then shorten the upper arm and extend the lower arm keeping the arm length the same. You will need to raise the bars and extend the reach for the same torso position.

          In terms of bike fit I have the worst of all worlds, long inseam, short torso, and short upper leg/arm and long arms. Very few geometries play nice with those proportions (think human spider). I look for a size appropriate bike with a relatively tall stack, short reach, then put on a very long stem. Its bizzare, but that combo is fit and handling nirvana.

          • xeren

            interesting…is there a ratio or average length of an upper arm or leg that I could look at to determine if i have long or short femurs? maybe it’s just because i’m right on the border of a medium and a large in most brands, and always end up on mediums (or maybe i’m just doing this all wrong), but i tend to have to put my saddle as far back as possible on the rails, despite my inseam being short

          • Rider_X

            The length of upper arm/leg scales to height, so what you want is the average ratio. There was a recent paper with a bunch of these ratios: Pietak, A., Ma, S., Beck, C.W., and Stringer, M.D. 2013. Fundamental ratios and logarithmic periodicity in human limb bones. J. Anat. 222(5): 526–537. doi:10.1111/joa.12041. Strangely, these type of basic studies on human bone allometry are lacking.

            The average femur:tibia ratio was about 1.21 for people of Asian descent, while they provided average bone lengths for people of European descent they didn’t provide an average ratio (note that ratio of means != mean of ratios). A relatively shorter femur would put the ratio closer to 1, a relatively longer femur would put the ratio > 1.2.

            If you are having to put the saddle all the way back this suggests potentially longer femurs. The fact you also prefer taller stack makes me wonder if you should just be looking at larger bike size. Also, how do you know that you have a short inseam? I figured it out as I could ride the same saddle position as people that had a half a foot or more height on me.

          • Superpilot

            Believe it or not there is research around on average dimensions for the military on the net somewhere, was looking myself as I have an alien body (long arms and legs, short torso) and I can’t get comfortable on any bike, even after 3 bike fits :( Still keep riding though.

          • Rider_X

            The air force did that in the 40/50’s not sure if the data is publicly available. Having alien proportions myself I hear you on having trouble getting comfy. I found a good stack to reach ratio in: Giant Anyroad, Salsa Vaya, Twin Six Rando and 2018 Splesh Diverge (pre 2018 have a geo that is too low). I am sure there are others, but probably that not many beyond custom.

            Ended up convincing giant to sell me an old Anyroad Comax (composite) frame left from warranty stock. Super happy with the higher position. Giant markets it as a “beginner” road bike, the components they come with are meh, and its got the ugly duckling look, but the frame has the right geo. Built the frame up with SRAM, some decent wheels and VO black fenders and it actually looks decent. I end up using a longish stem (120 or 130) to accommodate my long arms, the short torso + the short frame reach means a good weight distribution so the bike steers incredibly intuitively. One of the few bikes I don’t feel that I have to concentrate on difficult turn-ins. The only remaining issues is toe overlap… but you can’t win them all.

            Custom is another possibility. As a test try using one of those ugly as %$^ steer tube extenders. It can give you a more upright position to test out. Don’t fear a long stem on an upright position, it can be quite comfy. Once you get position dialed in, there are internet spreadsheets to do the stack/reach calculations. I ended up working backwards from a comfortable position to figure out the frame geo I needed so I could have the stem flipped down with one or two spacers. Finally, I have a normal looking bike that is comfy, only problem is that I am now too damn old for it to matter :-(

            Also, aliens be warned. I spent too many years riding many years too low, and compensating by overly flexing thoracic region (about 20 + years). This eventually lead to breathing issues as I aged (i.e., lost ability to diagrammatically breath), which then lead to back pain due to the over worked intercostal muscles. I have been fixing these issues, and retraining my breathing… no small task. If you can avoid these follies I highly recommend you do so!

      • I have short legs and the standover height kind of scared me and the boys.

  • z21pj

    I like your detailed review. I’d prefer smaller chainrings too so what do you suggest? I believe their rear derailleur is already at max capacity.

    Also, what’s your sense of this as a comfortable or “all-day” frame on mixed surfaces, relative to reach and standover?

    • Personally I’d go down to a subcompact double, 44/28, 46/30 or 48/32 or something like that. Still a 16-tooth jump if you choose any of those, so the RD is fine. You may also be able to get away with an 11-28 cassette and a bigger jump up front if you prefer.

      Reach and standover are pretty similar to other bikes, IMO. I enter every bike I ride (and ones I research outside of that) into a calculator to compare geometry. Surly head tubes are shorter than average, which can make reach look longer than it actually is. All day, sure, that was what I did with it!

  • Thanks for the review Morgan, it gave some great insights! I dunno about this one though – Everything has a place in the bike World today, it’s part of what makes cycling more accessible to more riders, but I can’t say this bike makes a lot of sense to me. I feel like this niche doesn’t really exist… Or maybe it does and now will come fully to fruition now that this bike is on the market! I suppose only time’ll tell. I am curious where you’ll find a non suspension corrected carbon fork w/12mm TA that can fit 2.35″ tyres though. Keep the detailed reviews comin’!

    • I think there are a lot of people who like the feel of a fast road bike, and would take it further afield if the tires weren’t a limiting factor. Sure, you can take your 700x28s off road, but you can’t air them down to 30 with confidence.

      For the majority of riders, I think this kind of bike makes a lot more sense than a road bike with narrower tires. If it goes just as fast, handles similarly (important in a group situation), but rides more comfortably, then why not?

      Unlike the majority of slacker gravel bikes out there that fit wide 650s, the Midnight Special retains on-road manners that people doing big miles or fast group rides will appreciate.

      As for the fork question, there are a number of carbon forks out there that clear 2.1s. Plenty of tire for this bike, and still room for fenders.

      • lol, you’re right, people should avoid 30psi on their 28mm slicks, without a doubt. I am not a proponent of the narrow-tyre road bike at all, tbh; I think they’re such specialized bikes, and create a pretty isolated cycling experience for a lot of riders.

        I will definitely reiterate that I think that this bike is just… Strange to put out. It’s aesthetically quite bland, and it is pretty much a straggler. The geo in my size (52cm,) is either 0, or .5 degrees steeper in the HT, (there is no 52cm MS so I have to kinda ball park between 50-54.) The wheelbase is only 1mm shorter, and there’s still weird drop outs and crazy toe overlap. I don’t really see why you’d want a straight steer tube fork stock in a 44mm head tube, it looks really awkward. It doesn’t really make sense to run a tapered carbon fork on entry level steel. The fork rake is shorter, and there’s a taller head tube, which is rad, (and will change the front end characteristics notably,) but it’s mostly just a wider tire, TA compatible (sort of,) Straggler. It just seems like a Velo Orange Polyvalent (new model,) without the beautiful vintage inspired aesthetics. Maybe I’m a weeny but I just don’t think these geo differences would be highly noticeable to a non highly tuned in rider, which I think very few folks truly are.

        I don’t mean to shit on cool new projects, it IS cool when things change, but I don’t really think this bike has anything to offer that doesn’t already exist in other models/markets. Also, still trying to come to #coffeoutsideyvr, hopefully we can continue to chat about this, and things like this, there!

  • Ted Fitch

    Morgan – thanks for the great write up! I test rode this the other day and love the feel. I’m looking for a commuter that’s fast but comfortable for an 18 mile one-way commute over a variety of road surfaces so I think this really fits the bill plus has all of the versatility to add fenders, racks etc if I want. The 650b tires were so smooth :-)

    Question for you – how tall are you? I’m just over 5’11 and have been test riding multiple bikes recently and found that 58cm frames have fit me the best, however, the 58 I rode the other day was a tad bit too big for me – stand over with feet on the ground had the top tube just a little too tight potentially.

    • StaySaneSleepOutside

      Same here, Ted. I’m a Surly 56, but 58 in EVERYTHING else. 5′ 11.5″ medium torso with long legs & arms. Above the waist, I average a 56. Below, a 58. That doesn’t jive perfectly with Surly sizing. Sounds like you’re the same.

      • As above, this is because Surly measures their bikes differently than most other companies.

      • Ted Fitch

        I ended up ordering a 58. I rode the 58 last week and liked everything about it but was a tad concerned about the top bar being tight on my crotch. Rode the 56 today and while the top bar is better I felt the bike was too small for me and I felt the bars were too close. So I rode the 58 again right after and just felt so much more comfortable on that bike. Then rode the 56 with the saddle back as far as it would go but still like the 58. Evaluating the standover again in the shop and comparing to the 56 I felt the 58 is fine really and not a concern. Shop guy thought 58 was totally fine.

        Hopefully I’ll have it next week

    • Surly’s published sizes are from center of bottom bracket to top of top tube – 2-3 cm below the top of the seat tube, where most companies publish from. If you feel comfortable on other 58s, you’ll probably be on a Surly 56. And at 5’11, that makes sense to me.

      I’m 6’0 and as you can see, my fit works well with the saddle back and the bars high and forward. I run about 3 cm saddle to bar drop. Saddle height is 76.5 cm. On the 58 Midnight Special I ran 2.5 cm of spacers below the 100×6º positive rise stem.

      • Ted Fitch

        Thanks for the confirmation, Morgan! I have a 56 on reserve at my LBS hope to be checking it out next week.

      • Gonzalo


        Having a well fitted 60 size Cross-check with 860 mm saddle height, 605 mm tip of saddle to handlebars, and 90 mm saddle to bars (80 mm spacers and a 120 mm 17º slammed stem).

        What size do you think it would offer a better adjustment with Midnight special geometry?

        Thanks and best regards

        • Looking at reach and stack, it would appear the 60 Midnight Special fits slightly bigger than your 60 Cross Check. Based on your numbers, it sounds like you could really make use of a bike with more stack! 80mm is a lot of spacers even with a -17º stem.

          With all that said, I can’t recommend a bike size for you based off this info alone. That’s for you and your fit professional to work out! I felt comfortable telling Ted that he needed to look at 56s because he was looking at other companies’ 58s already.

    • Michael McDonald

      Surly bikes run a bit big, so this doesn’t surprise me. You’ll definitely want to check out the 56.

    • StaySaneSleepOutside

      check out comments above, he answers all this :-D

  • Medium Rick

    I really like the stuff QBP does. Not all of it necessarily for me, but I like the chances they take.

    • yes this 650b all road steel bike in 2018 is about as brave as it gets.

      • meaty_urologist


      • Medium Rick

        Sarcasm I assume. That aside, they have done many things over the years that aren’t common with mainstream bike companies. And while a 650 steel road bike may not be a new concept, they certainly aren’t mainstream.

        • Peter Chesworth

          A like for your comment Rick. Sarcasm is so clever.

      • Michael McDonald

        Being a dick to people on the internet is about as brave as it gets.

        • Medium Rick

          Internet bravado is the latest addition to the Hippocratic oath.

  • Trent Garcia

    This bike definitely would have been on my radar when I was looking at frames 4-5 years ago, but I am pretty happy with my Soma Wolverine. I’m glad the dropouts on this are more simple than the Straggler or Wolverine. Very few people really need the sliders on those bikes.

    • I agree about the sliders, though they do let people ride a variety of tire sizes. The Straggler’s dropouts are my least favorite part of the bike. Mounting rear racks and fenders on these bikes is also more complicated than flat mount bikes.

      • recurrecur

        I’m totally, wallet in hand, with your enthusiasm toward this bike, until I get to the dropouts. I really think, as with many of their other dropouts, that Surly’s fixation on the appearance of versatility has really gotten in the way of basic usefulness.

        • I also wonder if the dropouts would be a deal breaker for me if I was considering owning one. The tire and fender clearance is so good, the geometry is great… I do think that if I was starting again without any drop bar bikes (I have two at the moment, Wolverine and Rock Lobster) that I’d be considering the Midnight Special purely from a value and versatility perspective.

  • First surly I’ve ever really liked.

    • Max G.

      I was about to say the same.

  • adventureroadbiker

    I don’t know if “most” road plus bikes are really derived from cross bikes? Maybe more are aimed at gravel rather tarmac but not really derived from cross. The Bombtrack Audax is another good option if you want something really road orientated but maybe a bit more refined.

    • I’ll put it this way: 73º is a steep head angle for a bike coming out of the factory with 650×47. It makes for a noticeable difference in handling, having ridden a good number of bikes with this tire size.

      The Audax has a 72º head angle in most sizes (and way steep seat 74º angles, oddly). In the performance asphalt world, 72º is on the slack side.

      • adventureroadbiker

        Yeah I guess for a “performance asphalt” bike 72 is a bit on the slack side but for riding all day on a mixture of rough tarmac and light gravel, which is what both bikes are aimed at, I think the Audax geo is all good. Not trying to bash the Surly, just pointing out that there are other bikes in this category.

        • Read the comments here, on my Instagram page, on Surly’s Instagram page, and you’ll see that people want to know: what makes this bike different than the other bikes that look very similar at first glance?

          The 73º head tube angle makes the Midnight Special ride different than other bikes that are coming with the same wheels and tires (which are for the most part in the 71-72º range). You’re right: a 72º head angle rides just fine on this kind of bike, but it doesn’t ride the same as a 73º head tube angle.

          I don’t think you’re bashing the Surly, but you are saying it’s the same, and I’m saying it’s different enough to write a 2200 word review detailing my experience. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

  • RX178

    UUUGHGGHGGHGHG….. I want this. Bad.

  • RX178

    So… If you wanted to, you could run downtube shifters and regular road calipers?

    • Downtube shifters yes, rim brakes why would you?

      • RX178

        Because you can? Isn’t that the point of Surlys versatility?

  • Ben Hoffman

    Is there toe overlap with fenders

    • Yes, for me, on this particular size. None without fenders.

  • Max G.

    Love the last photo.

    • Thanks! It’s of my favorite spots to shoot bikes, just a few blocks from home.

      • Max G.

        Looks like Pacific NW. I might be wrong but it reminds me of the hills above Portland, OR.

        • Trent Garcia

          Morgan lives in (or very near) Vancouver, BC.

  • I know that Surly’s tend to be on the long side, but this bike isn’t that at all, looking at it. For a bike with 650b even with fat tires this bike is slammed with 700C 35’s and you’ll be able to just barely fit 42’s. I’m thinking this bike is going to be tallish stack and a average to short reach for most. Keep your saddle where you want it and get a longer/ or shorter stem to get your fit.

    • Saddle position is dependent on seat tube angle. For myself on a 73º seat angle I usually need my saddle slammed back. 72.5 starts to bring me into the range that works.

      Stack on this bike is relatively low like on most Surly bikes due to the horizontal top tube and resultant shorter head tube.

      • This stack height isnt so low. No lower than your typical Road bike. Compared to many of those it’s on the high side. Now if you like your stack to be Particularly high and your saddle slammed back, you might want to consider bikes with a more relaxed position. This frame is quite obviously a Road Bike geometry with a slightly longish rake, but a short back end. If you tried to slam back on this you’d automatically lengthen your reach to get you upright the way you want. The solution, is to shorten your stem length increase your angle and then choose an appropriate bar for your needs, maybe even one with a little bit of rise and aft curvature. But I will say though on this bike, it wouldn’t be wise because the rear end is short enough that your weight transfer would set you too far back lightening the load on the front wheel making it feel loose on fast turns and unbalanced when moving slow. Also you’d be losing gobs of power on your downstrokes because of the lack of leverage and your weight being balanced poorly to bear down. And that’s besides your knees being too far behind the pedals.

  • nishars

    Could you expand more on the performance of the bike. Looking at those flattish drive side chainstay, I would think you might experience issues with lateral wiggle when mashing on the pedals. As it’s catered to road bike market , would love to hear how well it can speed up and keep pace in club rides.

    • Pat Shearer

      I spent a decade on a Cross-Check and this was my chief complaint. In saddle mashing and out of saddle in particular, would cause a good amount of flex.

      • The flex is still there robbing you even when spinning at a moderate amount of load.

    • I too thought the flat chainstay might have an effect on the way the bike rode, but it was not overly flexy laterally. The 425mm chainstay and steeper angles make it a good candidate for club rides: similar handling to the carbon road bikes most people are riding these days. I’d suggest going with faster tires than the Horizons if you’re usually a mid-pack rider, but a strong rider would be able to push them and enjoy it.

  • Catherine Meister

    anybody know what this frame bag is?

    • Chris Valente

      Porcelain Rocket. The handlebar bag is Outer Shell.

      • Catherine Meister


  • StaySaneSleepOutside

    Toe overlap, as with all other Surly drop bar bikes?
    How about loading? Better in front or spread out?
    Is it a stable riding feel or a lighter, quicker bike?

    • StaySaneSleepOutside

      Also, Morgan, you say other bikes with Horizons & Byways are slower to turn and less fun at speed… how about the Midnight Special compared to 700c wheels, particularly wider tires like 42s?
      Maybe this is a good time & place: Is it just me or do I really feel a widely accepted and noted aspect of 700×42 or greater tire diameters on a road bike geometry as hard to keep turning at speed? I feel anything this size and bigger feels just too large of diameter and requires a lot of energy to keep moving fast on a road bike geometry. Can anyone chime in on this? It makes sense that a smaller diameter would feel faster and require less energy to rotate, but I just don’t like anything bigger than 42s on a road geo bike, specifically – and I’m a bigger is better guy. I’d never ride skinnier than 40c. Ever.

      • When I say slower to turn, I mean getting the bike to initiate corners. They feel sticky, which corroborates with their confidence-inspiring grip. Using Bicycle Quarterly’s language, I would say the Horizons and Byways have more inherent pneumatic trail (at similar-riding pressures) than the Compass tires I also rode this bike with.

        Going to a wide 700c tire changes the gyroscopic forces you experience while riding, but you also have to keep in mind that many tires that big are not designed as fast road tires. So what you experience as “hard to keep turning at speed” could be that you’re working against a slow(er) tire, and noticing that more at higher speeds?

        Personally I find the Compass Babyshoe Pass 650x42s to hit a sweet spot of comfort and speed for my needs. The Switchback Hill 650x48s are much more balloonish (they come out at 50mm+ on most rims) and need to be run at significantly lower pressures to be happy.

        • StaySaneSleepOutside

          Thank you for this. Second statement, yeah that could be in a couple cases, but not all… I’m running a 58cm Spec Sequoia with the 700×42 Sawtooths. It rolls well and i generally ride fast and strong, but i feel like it takes more energy than it ‘should’ to keep going fast, especially on road bikes in general with any tire size larger than 40c i’ve ever tried. Noticeably more. I’m not real versed in the road side of wheels, tires, and theory… just have felt some things in the handful of bikes I’ve ridden with bigger than stock tires (Fargo/2.35 Ikon, Vaya/38c 40c 47c, Straggler/2.1 Nano, Sequoia/42c) and feel like maybe I’m on to something here… Oddly, only half a side story, i could routinely ride over 10 mile routes in the same overall time on my dynamo’d 29+ ECR (swept flat bar) as I could on my 2.2in Fargo Ti, mostly on rough pavement. It’s as if over a certain size 700c tire is harder to keep up to speed on drop bars as opposed to a much larger tire on flat bars. Additional example: Mukluk Ti fatbike with 29+ wheels – I can ride it as fast as I can the Sequoia, for about the same distance. That makes no sense to me. Insert shrug emoji. Anybody please chime in here. Thanks!

          • Ted Fitch

            Interesting- I’ll let you know my experience. I’m going from a GT Karakoram 29er mtb and assuming that the midnight special is going to be faster and easier to ride even on the big tires – it is about 8 pounds lighter, road gearing (50/34 crank vs mtb triple crank top being 44t), road bike geometry and when riding in the drops it will make me more aerodynamic compared to the flatbars of the GT. I think riding in the drops + gearing will make the biggest difference.

            Are you riding in the drops, hoods or tops on your sequoia? Since the Mukluk and sequoia gearing looks fairly similar and weight difference not really a big factor once you get rolling if you are not riding in the drops your experience might be expected? I’m no expert though…never ridden a drop bar bike other than test rides recently looking for a new bike.

          • From a physics point of view, heavier and larger wheels maintain their momentum better than lighter and smaller ones. Both 650b and 700c can feel fast, on the right tires. Looking at your list, it sounds like you may not have ridden truly fast high volume tires?

            Sawtooths are in the same category of tire as Horizons and Byways: durable, tubeless-friendly, not the lightest, and not the fastest. Nanos are even slower, particularly the 2.1s. 2.35 Ikons are XC mountain bike tires.

            All of the above tires are going to feel slow in comparison to a lightweight, but less durable road tire. Unfortunately it’s not a cheap experiment to undertake, and many people find the faster, supple tires to be less durable than they’d like for mixed surface riding.

            When you get into the discussion of higher volume tires (mountain/plus/fat), I’m wondering if you might be finding that lower pressures result in a smaller amount of suspension loss while riding. Beyond that I’d wonder if the fit was better on the bikes with bigger tires?

            It’s a really interesting conversation!

          • StaySaneSleepOutside

            I just took of one of my Sequoia wheels and wow is it heavy. There is the explanation of the slow feeling, as also verified with Big Janet Romance ;) Maybe I should just build up the set of Crest MK3s I have NIB.

          • StaySaneSleepOutside

            Re: the big tire bikes, the ECR has a flatter top tube and lower stack than the Fargo (ti), which I imagine is the resulting equal average speeds of the two… possibly.

          • It takes more energy to get a heavy wheel up to speed. You keep some momentum, but you lose that energy on the first time you tap your brakes.

            I want to know if this bicycle is efficient. I bought a Bianchi road bike that replaced my three hundred dollar Nashbar road bike from thirty years ago, and it was so efficient, fantastic, and fun. It was a great leap forward. My LBS owner told me that the stiffness in the bottom bracket construction determines efficiency. I am loathe to lose that.

    • A bit of toe overlap with the fenders, none without, for me on this particular size. FWIW the 650b Straggler is significantly better than the 700c in the toe overlap department. I haven’t calculated the front centre on the three bikes to compare, sorry.

      It’s best suited to a more evenly distributed load with the low offset fork. Are there many bikes that handle well with a huge basket hanging off the front?

      It’s quick handling but gains a nice confidence at speed. Reminded me of my old steel road bikes more than any road plus bike I’ve ridden. I really enjoyed carving down mountain roads on it.

      • StaySaneSleepOutside

        Thank you, Morgan!

  • I would be curious how this bike would do on a little singletrack.

    • I ran into a friend who was riding his 29er hardtail one day, and he convinced me to take the long way home and join him for a nasty, rooty singletrack diversion. I was seriously surprised at what I was able to clean on the Horizons at ~35 psi. There are still better tools for the job if trail riding is your main goal, but you can get away with it on most any drop bar bike.

      • Thanks so much for the reply. Between this and All-City’s Gorilla Monsoon, among a few other options (Bombtrack Hook, Rawland xSogn), and I think the value on this Surly is hard to beat.

        • The Bombtrack Hook is closer to a Rove LTD or a Cosmic Stallion, the Gorilla Monsoon has a 73mm bottom bracket shell, and the Rawland is a low trail bike. Midnight Special is the most “road” of all of them. Definitely a wide range of handling characteristics among that group!

          • Thank you again for the reply. I am looking for a bike that is capable of just about anything, but will probably be on the road 75% of the time, to replace my old Fuji cross bike. Already having (and loving) a Karate Monkey, I don’t necessarily want another Surly, but the MS (perhaps with a pair of Nanos and maybe a second Byway wheelset) seems like a great option and looks really sharp. I won’t be able to ride any of the four or five being considered, so articles like this are super helpful. Great write up and again, I certainly appreciate the informed and reasonable comments.

          • Max

            Don’t forget to look at the New Albion Drake. Personally, I think it looks like the best bike in this category and for a lot less money.

          • Great value with the Drake. Wolverine clearance for less money, and all you really lose is the sliding dropout. It uses the same fork.

          • meaty_urologist

            pressfit bb tho…!!

          • That could definitely be a deal breaker for some.

    • Update: I went with the MS, picked it up last Friday and after a couple not-long-enough rides, I am super happy with it. Being new to this road bike thing, it might take a minute to get used to the geo/handling. Surprised at how different a simple bunny hop felt on this bike vs on my cross bike. This bike is fast(er than it looks), floats up hills. The wheels spin up very nicely and I can actually feel them carrying momentum. Swapped out the wheels for a DT Swiss 350/Stans Crest MK3/WTB Byways set, very happy with that. Also, the paint job looks fantastic in person; the (great) pictures look good, but don’t do the pearly finish justice.

      It’s early, but like with my Karate Monkey, I anticipate having this bike for a long time. Thank you Morgan and others for your feedback. There’s a nice thread on the Surly board at MTBR with a lot of info.

  • Mark Rothschild

    Is it,”Riding a Brick”,..4130 Tubing???

    • No. The bike feels lighter than I expected. Rides fast too.

  • Brent Kyono

    I think the massive tire clearance is both the greatest and most confusing aspect of this bike. Why design for such large tires if it means compromises to fork and chainstay length- particularly on a bike with road-biased geometry and the accompanying Road Plus title? In my mind, a shortened A-C, tighter chainstays, and clearance capped around 50mm would have been spot on for Road Plus… at least with how the industry currently interprets it. Tap into aftermarket “gravel” forks like the Columbus Futura and ENVE GRD, rather than cross forks less optimized for 650b and leave the real big rubber for a redesigned Straggler.

    I emailed Surly looking for insight into this, but the response did not reveal much unfortunately. The FFF mantra was cited (which is one of my favorite pillars of the brand), but did not go on to explain why their new road frame needed such clearances. It seems idiosyncratic to allow more tire than you’d need for the bike’s intended use whilst compromising in areas that would arguably make it more appropriate for that usage.

    Just my thoughts on the design, though after everything I am glad this bike exists! It’s another push to motivate the market for big tire, small wheel road bikes, and it clearly opens the door for a Straggler redesign with monstercross tire clearance in the future.

    • James Liepolt

      425mm chain stay length hardly seems compromised. Especially considering an Open U.P. has 420mm with a claimed max tire of 27.5″ x2.1″. And both are capable of running a road crank on a 68mm BB shell.

      Just my opinion, but when I think of the prototypical gravel race bike the open U.P. is what comes to mind. I don’t think surly is trying to make a competitor for the Open, but based on the specs, I think it’s about as racey as an of-the-peg 4130 bike can get (and still get the same tire clearance… and run a road crank… and keep the chain stays short…).

      • Brent Kyono

        I suppose I thought about it backwards from your train of thought, with tire clearance a function of chainstay length, rather than the other way around. With disc road bikes hovering around 410-415mm, I was expecting Surly to prioritize getting closer to that, rather than accommodating big tires.

        The Midnight Special is marketed more as a road bike that can do dirt, whereas the UP is a dirt bike that can do road, which is why I found it funny. That kind of comparison isn’t meant be drawn IMO, but it is the natural inclination due to how they designed the clearances.

    • The 400mm axle-crown is the same as a ‘cross fork. I can’t see any advantage to building this bike around a shorter fork, considering that all the aftermarket forks and most bikes with this much tire clearance use something in the same a-c range. There isn’t a gaping space above the 650x47mm tire in the stock fork, and you’ve gotta keep room for fenders, at least up to 700×40, which neither of those 380-382mm forks will do.

      I guess I just see the ‘cross fork length as more versatile than something shorter, and versatility is what long term customers have come to expect from Surly. The 2.3″ rear end clearance is arguably overkill, but nobody’s going to be fighting to get whatever fenders they want into this bike on big tires. Like you said, the door is now open for a Straggler that’s significantly different than the current model.

      • Nat Whittingham

        The Schwalbe Big ones come in at 2.35 and will fit Beautifully into this frame now, so i’m super stoked on the clearance!

        • Dang, looking forward to seeing when someone builds one up with those tires!

      • Nick Erickson

        I would be extremely curious to see what it felt like with massive tires, carbon fork and racy fit… But with full carbon bikes from Bombtrack and Diamondback in this same category decisions are difficult.

  • Gavin Marcinkowski

    It looks very similar in geometry to the new bombtrack Audax, which is another exciting bike of 2018

    • There’s already another comment thread going about the Audax comparison, if you want to dive in.

      • Brenton Collas

        Prey tell good sir, as to where I might find this discussion. I cannot google it, for a damn…

        • @disqus_l7tFW2MQtY:disqus started the thread. It’s in this comments section. Cmd+F for Audax.

  • Peter Chesworth

    Great to see. Love the NAHBS thing, but realistically this is what most will actually buy. The choice in fun and useable bikes is growing. Wish they’d ditch the gravel thing – just “fun and useable”. Catchy, eh? If only the fender mounts were not perpendicular. Darumas just don’t last.

    • Dave Pelletier

      +1 for the utilitarian / affordable factor. Not that I also didn’t enjoy the NAHBS porn.

  • Rafe Wadleigh

    Great review of a cool bike! Waiting with bated breath for the Gorilla Monsoon review. Are you currently in possession?

    • All of our contributors are jumping into the squared circle for that one…

  • Bluejaystr

    Great read! How do you think the bike would handle with a nitto kinda rack + wald basket? Additionally, what fenders and mudflaps are those? Thank you for sharing :)

    • Up to and including size 54, the Midnight Special uses a 50mm offset fork. 56 and up have the 40mm fork. It’s always a game of desired handling, toe overlap, and utility.

      I would say the bigger sizes are less suited to a small basket up front, while the smaller ones could pull it off better. In any case I’d recommend trying to get the basket as low and far back as possible. With both bikes it’ll probably handle just fine once you’re moving, but be a bit floppy at very low speeds.

      The fenders are Planet Bike Cascadia ALX, 650×60 size. I made the rear flap by sandwiching gorilla tape around a strip of thin plastic.

  • Richard

    Year’s just started and it looks like Surly FTW in 2018 Radavist “Best ot…” based on 80 comments – and the most technical analysis to boot!

  • Big Jänet Romance

    fun review Morgan! you certainly have the caliper brain to analyze and synthesize. math rock for the people, so to speak.

    • Thanks Bené! I just love riding lots of different bikes and working out how they fit into the puzzle. Glad people like it!

  • Max

    Not sure how many bikes you’ve ridden, but it seems like you’ve ridden quite a few. The statement, “is the best bike I’ve ever ridden WTB’s Road Plus tires on,” seems pretty significant to me, and gives a huge, huge two thumbs up to this bike. Thanks for changing my opinion on this bike and shedding some nice light on it.

    • Cool. It may only look slightly different on paper, but the difference in ride characteristics is noticeable.

      • MansNotHot

        Didn’t you have a Kona Rove at some point? If you don’t mind me asking, how do the two compare?

        • Yeah, I actually had the 2017 Rove ST, sold it for the Rove LTD, turned out I preferred the smoother ride quality of the cheaper model, so sold the LTD to buy another Rove ST. I only recently sold that one since I got my Rock Lobster and have been riding my Wolverine a lot more.

          The 2018 Rove ST and LTD fit 650×47-48, so those are a couple of the bikes I’m using as a comparison here for the tires. I rode a 200km brevet on each of them last year on 650b. Those two bikes ride similarly (same geo, same rear end length) but the LTD is a lot stiffer, which I mostly chalk up to the tapered head tube, oversize tubes, and carbon fork.

          The Roves have a much slacker head angle, and a slightly longer rear end. So they handle a touch more stable, and arguably more fun off road. They kinda feel like they have more wheel flop than the Midnight Special. Like I said above I really liked the base Rove ST. Crazy good value in that bike.

          • StaySaneSleepOutside

            i think there are thousands that would love your one bike recommendation for road plus and 2.1ish dirt wheel sets. and why.

          • ^^^^This! Or even one wheelset for both. Surly specs it with the 19mm Alex rims, but I believe wider would be better for the Byways or even 2.1 Nanos. How wide though?

          • StaySaneSleepOutside

            19 is too narrow for road plus, according to WTB. i agree. too lightbulb shaped. i have a byway on a blunt ss (26.6 internal) and that is too wide tho. sidewalls are wider than the tread. i bet 23 is ideal.

          • Thanks for weighing in, and for doubling back to comment on Surly’s stock rims. I’d probably upgrade the wheels to 23mm or whatever Stan’s Crest MK3 are. And then DT350 hubs. Seems like a reasonable combo. Went in to buy the bike on Tuesday and the QBP rep was there, didn’t know a whole lot about the bike, or other similar ones. Or wheels. Dude talked me right out of buying. But I think I am sold now, well gotta see Salsa’s Journeyman first.

          • Don’t get too stuck on armchair engineering rim width!

          • StaySaneSleepOutside

            100% agree with you. but what is the Salsa Journeyman?!?!

          • StaySaneSleepOutside

            surly always stocks their bikes with too narrow of rims. cheap, heavy, narrow. always. grrr. buy a stock surly and the rims are sometimes too narrow for the stock tires. seems like they’re changing, slowly, on most of their bikes tho. real bummer about this one.

          • onewheelskyward

            You’ve clearly never owned a Moonlander.

  • Adam Boston

    I like everything about this bike albeit the clashing unicrown fork.

  • Kevin J. Smith

    great review and useful information. I’m a bit bummed about the unicrown fork and the color, but everything else seems to fix what I don’t like about my Cross Check. This type of bike might finally make me go to discs for my ‘do everything’ rig.

    • StaySaneSleepOutside

      dude, rattle can it! give it a bright splatter paint

  • AaronBenjamin

    Having ridden road tires that ranged from 700x23c to 42c and beyond, then also riding 650x47bs, I have come to the conclusion that in any kind of dirt, 35c and up is preferable. On strictly pavement, 35 and lower is also serviceable.

    650bx47b tires come to a point that starts to compromise aerodynamics and acceleration due to all the extra rubber. Anything bigger than a 35 on a 700c wheel starts to have too much “pneumatic trail”. The wheel feels huge, weird and just doesn’t want to initiate turns because of its center of inertia. You lose a lot of the “sporty” feel of a road bike once your tires are basically MTB tires.

    My guess is that something around 700mm ETRTO, right between 700c and 650b with a 40mm tire would be the perfect all-arounder… aka “road minus”. But who is actually going to go to that length to optimize the system?

    • For the type of riding that most people do, 650×47 is really suitable. And 650×42 is a really useful option if you want a smaller tire. Have you tried 650b with anything other than WTB’s tires?

    • Tim Rice

      650×47 GK 520 gram,
      650×42 GK 350 gram,

      I’d love a bike with 650×42, It would be a perfect pavement, crappy pavement, chip seal, maintained gravel road bike.

      I am tempted for a Giant TCX advanced sx, or the alloy slr because of the higher bottom bracket. What I don’t know is, what will the wheel flop feel like. I am assuming the TCX with a 650×42 would feel like the Cannondale slate 650×42. which I don’t like.

      then again my Pasela 700×38 Protite with tubes are 510 gram, Other than aerodynamics coming into play is the weight of a 650×47 that far off from a 700×38?

      for whatever it is worth, the absolute enjoyment of the 700×38 Pasela’s come from throwing the bike around and doing some serious carving that probably shouldn’t be done on road bikes. I’ve rolled off the lugs on my 700×40 MSO’s. trippy feeling…lol

      Maybe I need a 700×38 panaracer GK tubeless setup on Carbon wheels. at 320 gram a tire….. Screw dealing with trying to find a bike that works with the road plus.

  • Max

    Just had to remind everyone that Masi came out with this same bike a 2 years ago…

    • Which model specifically?

      • Max

        Special Randonneur

        • Of all the bikes that people are comparing the Midnight Special to, the Speciale Randonneur is actually among the closest by the geometry chart. With its 65mm offset fork the Speciale Randonneur is one of the least expensive ways to get into low trail rando geometry, if that’s what you’re after. The lower offset of the Midnight Special fork will suit more people in terms of handling characteristics. But to say it’s the same bike is to ignore the 12mm axles, 44mm head tube, and flat mount brakes.

          • Max

            Good jolly old chap

    • Steve Reynolds

      I would’ve thought this most closely resembled the Ritchey Outback, excepting disc vs flat mount brakes. Same angles, low stack heights and stack:reach ratios.

  • Chris Leydig

    I need this in Ti…

  • Sage Bornhauser

    Loving the frame bag color-way on this bike!

    • It is the bag from my Wolverine! I’ve had it on a few bikes over the past while. It always fits best in the bike it was custom made for!

  • Terry Palmer

    Love the photos and write up. How’s the build featured in your article different from the complete Surly is selling? Very interested in the bike now.

    • I swapped the wheels and tires, saddle and post, and stem. And added the bags, obviously.

  • Taylor Sanderson

    How do you think the bike would feel with a set of flat bars on it? I’m seriously considering the Surly Moloko bar at the moment. As a mountain biker primarily, I think I’d enjoy the upright position and the familiarity it would offer.

    I’m torn between the Midnight Special and a 650b Straggler for my new build though. I’d likely choose to outfit it with small front/rear racks, flat bars, and a 1x mtb drivetrain. I’d be using it primarily for commuting but would also like to be able to use it for the occasional grocery run and exploration ride on some light single track or fire road. I like the idea of the WTB road plus for either option, although extra tire clearance for a set of real mtb tires on the Midnight Special is appealing. If you had to choose between the two, which would you pick? I appreciate the input!

    • Robert

      My exact question. I currently ride a ss Steamroller for my commute, with Jones H-Bend bars. It’s perfect for me, as I’ve found drop bars more uncomfortable the last couple of years. So much so that I am going to sell my much loved Lemond Poprad Disc. The steamroller is super fun for the mostly rail trail commute, but it’s lack of fender or rack mounting points is limiting, and my legs would appreciate gears for the grind of a hill that gets me home after a long day. In general I prefer fat, so the MS seems ideal, especially with WTB Byway tires.

      But then, do I get the complete build, which has some nice components, or go the more expensive route of a custom build?

      • If you’re set on riding it with a flat or Jones bar, then the Rival drivetrain won’t work and you’ll need new brake levers anyway. That said, if you don’t already have a set of 650b wheels with 12mm axles, or flat mount brakes, you could still come out ahead buying the complete.

    • onewheelskyward

      The Moloko is a huge, heavy bar, that’s dead flat, no rise. I have one on my Big Dummy, and I trimmed an inch from each side of it. I’m not sure it would translate well to a bike with this geometry.

      • The Moloko is arguably more suited to flat bar conversions than a Jones because it sweeps forward a lot more, meaning you will end up running a shorter stem. But you are right, it’s heavy.

    • People have been putting flat bars on Surly bikes for a long time. They work fine! It’s worth noting that bikes designed for flat bars usually have quite a bit more reach than those designed for drops, so you may want to size up to get a bit more reach out of the frame and avoid having a huge stem.

      The tire clearance would probably have me lean toward the Midnight Special, as well as the more stable on-road handling characteristics. But it’s the Straggler’s dropouts that would seal the deal. Stephanie has the 650B Straggler and I can’t stand the dropouts.

  • Garrett Garcia Andrew Work

    Any comment on the actual ride quality of the frame? Nice a springy or pretty burly and stiff?

    • pissed

      I rode one Friday. Immediately comfortable. Rode it back to back with a Kona Rove LTD (quality unit). I noticed the difference in the steel surly fork and the carbon Kona fork immediately as the test included some gravel trails. The Kona was way stiffer – it was my first steel/carbon frame fork experience, and I’m really on the fence. The Surly is a nice smooth ride, no question. Loved the MS overall, but…. the cable brakes were not impressive, and I did fidget with the sram shifting as I’ve always been a Shimano guy – by default. The Force 1 on the Kona is just fantastic though, very intuitive and quality. My thought on the Surly is if you are in the US and can get it at the retail price there its a great deal. I’m not and the markup where I live is just stupid.
      I’m thinking about getting a MS frame and getting a group with hydro brakes – it’s a big difference IMO. I sold my cross check today to fund a new purchase, so I’m looking at all the opitions. None of the biggies are doing 650b, and I think it’s a great option. The Surly is definitely worth considering.

      • I had the Rove LTD for a few months, and with the carbon fork that bike rode very stiff in comparison to the base Rove ST that I had before. I sold the LTD and got another ST at that time. The Midnight Special is a lot more like the ST in terms of ride quality, but the steeper head angle makes for a different ride as I’ve said many times.

        For what it’s worth, Surly does not spec the Midnight Special with compressionless brake housing. This makes the brakes feel really mushy. Cable brakes can feel really good, but you have to put the effort into getting the good housing on the bike. Personally, I do prefer the shape of the mechanical hoods to the hydro hoods. Force 1 has crisper shifting than Rival, though you do give up the smaller jumps between gears of a double drivetrain. Both are good options!

        • Colin O’Sullivan

          @disqus_g2KMtHTS0V:disqus Hi Morgan. I have ridden neither the MS or the Rove ST. My local store is getting some Kona’s in making it possible to get a test ride in the coming months! I like the idea of the MS being more road feeling while having some utility mounting points if needed for light bike packing. Where I’m sort of scratching my hear is the not closed out thru axles. I’ve disc brake road bikes that are QR and it can be REALLY annoying when the alignment moves on a long wet ride. It’s sort of thru axle without the advantage of no misalignment thru axle?

          If you have to pick between the Rove ST and the Midnight Special for gravel and the odd light bike pacing overnighter for a road biker which would you get? You obviously like the Rove ST if you got it again after your Rove LTD. :)

    • Kurt Schneider

      I finished my MS build a few weeks ago, and roughly 150 miles of mixed riding since. After two years on a Vaya, I was looking for something quicker handling, and a little smoother riding. (No complaints about the Vaya.) The MS handles more like what you’d expect from a “traditional” road bike. More maneuverable and livelier than the Vaya. A bit more toe overlap, but that’s to be expected give the shorter wheelbase. Really happy with the new bike.

      For reference, both bikes use Shimano 105 drivetrains. (3×10 on the Vaya/2×11 on the MS.) I also swapped over the 700c Stan’s Crest rims and 40mm Re-Fuse tires from the Vaya. A 650b wheelset will come a little later in the spring

      • Garrett Garcia Andrew Work

        Appreciate the feedback! I am torn between this and waiting to see what Fairlight in the UK releases when they FINALLY announce details of their new “Secan”… I am sure 853 v Surly’s steel matters little aside from weight, but I am a sucker for marketing, we will see what happens.

        • Kurt Schneider

          My first road bike was a Lemond Zurich, with 853 tubing and Ultegra everything. I would have ridden it more, but it never felt like it fit. (Certainly no fault of the tubing.) I think what really helps the Surly ride quality are the curved fork blades and seat stays. The fact that you can run rather large tires doesn’t hurt either.

          • I had one of those 853 Lemonds as well and it was the stiffest “classic” road bike I ever rode. Like riding modern aluminum. I bought and sold a lot of bikes on CL for a few years and I got rid of that one pretty quick!

          • Kurt Schneider

            I kept mine for a lot longer than was practical. It collected dust for several years, and I finally took it on a ride down the Natchez Trace. (Roughly 420 miles.) The weather was so cold and wet that I didn’t bother taking issue with the bike. Sold it shortly after getting back. Still, that was a much more comfortable ride than taking a Trek Speed Concept from Seattle to San Diego. That’s a mistake I wouldn’t make again. Ever.

        • Kurt Schneider

          The Secan looks like a rather interesting bike. Monday the specs come out…are you on the mailing list?

          • Garrett Garcia Andrew Work

            I am indeed, and am stoked for tomorrow. Although, I know it’ll be a deposit, so not sure when they will be showing up.

        • Gonzalo

          I’m in the same situation to you. BB drop in the Secan is 77mm. I don’t know if it’s too much for using 650b x47 without pedal strike…

    • I wouldn’t describe this (or any production bikes in the same category) as springy, but the way that steel damps the ride, it’s noticeably more comfortable than riding an aluminum bike, or even a steel bike with a carbon fork.

  • Ryan Evison

    What fenders have you got on the bike in the review?

  • Minnesota Neis

    Can I find this bag anywhere?

  • Andrew Spurlin

    Anybody know offhand of a bike by a bigger brand that would likely be available for rent or demo with similar geometry to the midnight special? Or, assuming I am willing to travel, a shop that rents or demos the midnight special itself?

  • JimmyMcNulty

    Hi Morgan,

    It seems that sizing up is obviously the way to go. I have an opportunity to get a great deal on a 54 midnight special frameset for my old lady. She is 5’ 3.5” and rides a 52cm Bianchi San Jose. It seems like based on what you said about your sizing choice and stem length that it should work for her. Any thoughts?

  • syncro87

    Surly: with true close thru axle dropouts and tubeless ready wheels, I’d be in.

  • Big MontyJones

    hey guys I’m 5’10” and my local shop has a 58. It feels good but I had to lower the seat post so it’s only about an inch and a half from the tube. The shop put a 100mm stem on it for me to take a test ride and it feels good but the surly size chart says with my height I should be in a 54-56 range. He will let it go for 1400 and I’m in upstate NY. thoughts?

    • Unless you’ve got particularly unusual proportions, the 58 (which actually measures 61 c-t) is likely too big. Are you comfortable with how little standover you would have on it?

      • Big MontyJones

        hey thanks for the reply. I can stand over it but not much room under there to be honest. I had to jam the seat post down far like I said to get a good bend in my leg but it feels pretty good. Does anyone have a idea of how much they are going for? I thought $1400 sounded like a good deal with the MSRP prices I was seeing around the internet. I ride mostly for fitness 15-20 miles at a time. I’ve never really got off my current bike during a ride.

  • teawalk

    Thanks for the review! I really dig in this frame. I can imagine I have two wheelset for this (700c and 650b). One for road-ish ride and another for gravel. How smallest 700C it can fit in geometry, 700×32 still ok?

  • Duke Dennis

    I’m six foot and normally ride a 56 do you think I should upsize and get a 58 as well? Thanks

    • If you normally ride a 56 Surly, yes, get a 56 Midnight Special. If you normally ride a 56 in other bikes, you may want the 54 MS. I went to the 58 because I tend to like bikes with tall head tubes and long top tubes. I could have ridden the 56, on a longer stem, but would have needed more spacers under the stem.

  • Luke Heerema

    Spitballing here, I have a set of QR wheels with DT Swiss 350 hubs. Hypothetically they should line up with the disc brake and cassette, but does anyone have experience jumping back and forth between the stock wheelset and a QR set?

    • My understanding is that the QR adapters are available as an aftermarket piece from Surly, and that any QR hubs should be usable with the adapters. Best bet is to reach out to your local dealer.

    • Kurt Schneider


      Aside from an initial adapter hiccup, I’ve been swapping between thru axle and QR wheels since building the Midnight Special. (700c QR wheels from a Vaya and Straggler, in addition to thru axle sets in 650b and 700 built for the MS.) There hasn’t been a need to adjust calipers or derailleur when making the change. Everything has used Shimano 11 speed, and the same size rotors…so that helps keep things consistent.

      Also, wouldn’t you be able to order the endcaps for the 350 hubs, converting them to 12mm thru axle? That’d be a few bucks more than ordering the adapters, but it might be a better option.

      As always, your mileage may vary.